If It's Hot Fudge Friday, It Must Be Time for Another Schutze-Rodrigue Throwdown

Yesterday Dallas Morning News managing editor George Rodrigue took issue with my April 1 column in which I took issue with his attack on the Dallas Observer last month. At this point, I'm sure it would be better for everybody if George and I were locked in a sound-proofed room with Nerf swords and allowed to go at it out of everybody else's misery.

But for the record, I have to make these observations: George accuses me of believing that The Dallas Morning News is "somehow ... one giant conspiracy, and that our editorial page's point of view reflects our publisher's point of view, which must be reflected in our news coverage."

George, I never said "giant." Just "conspiracy."

A full 10 years ago I reported the following:

The Stemmons industrial district is of interest not just politically but historically because of its key role in the spawning of the great Dallas river fortunes in the post-war period. By dominating -- practically owning -- the early flood-control districts in this area in the first part of the century, the Stemmons family was able to transform thousands of acres of muddy, flood-threatened river bottom into dry land.

It was a touch-and-go operation in its early decades. A published history of the Stemmons empire tells of members of the family having to rush downtown on rainy days to manually crank up big pumping stations needed to get flood waters from the creeks off their land and over the levees into the river.

After World War II, when the Stemmons family donated its own land for a new federal highway along the northern fringe of its holdings, the Stemmons district became the warehousing and wholesaling hub of this part of the American Southwest. But nothing is forever in real estate. The growth of peripheral airports and urban sprawl have sucked the warehouse business far beyond the borders of the city.

Drive the narrow streets of the old Stemmons district today, and you find yourself passing row after row of cheap one-story tin and masonry buildings dating from the late '40s to the early '60s, long since amortized, long since abandoned by original tenants. If this entire seedy, down-at-the-heels area were to be suddenly reborn, largely at public expense, as a fashionable high-rise version of Turtle Creek, with vest-pocket parks, lakelets, and streams where dank flood-control works now stand, someone should make a great deal of money.

It's not easy to trace real ownership of property in Texas, because it's too easy to own land under layers of assumed names. Nevertheless, one name that still shows up frequently on land transactions in the Stemmons district is that of Industrial Properties Corp., the traditional vehicle of the Stemmons family interests.

The Stemmons family, its heirs, and its longtime business partners are still a major force in Dallas business circles and behind the scenes in Dallas politics. Louis Beecherl Jr. of Beecherl Cos., an investor closely associated with Industrial Properties Corp., has been the business community's lead lobbyist for the river plan.

Other old Dallas river-bottom names show up here and there in other key redevelopment target areas for the plan, such as the Oak Cliff "gateway" area at the foot of the Houston Street Viaduct in Oak Cliff or at the confluence of the Stemmons and R.L. Thornton Freeways at the far southwest corner of downtown by Reunion Arena. The Dealey family, founders and principal owners of The Dallas Morning News, are here in the guise of various estates, trusteeships, and assumed names such as 5947B Corp.

The new toll road planned as part of the river project would neatly frame all of these holdings. The Stemmons family has campaigned for a highway somewhere near this alignment since the late 1950s.

In my column that is the target of your most recent riposte, I pointed out that The News never examined the whole Trinity River project itself by assigning a team of reporters or even a single reporter to call flood control experts and see what they thought of it. The Chris Kelley story you cite was prior to the project and had nothing to do with it.

Had your paper ever made that assignment, your staff would have produced a story very similar to my first story about this in which I reported that all the experts thought the Trinity River project was dangerous, ill-conceived and flew in the face of current knowledge of flood control. I can't help thinking that's why the assignment was never made.

With unaccustomed humility, I must say that my reporting on this has not been exactly Sherlock Holmesian. Call the experts. Write down what they say. Write up a story. I learned to do that stuff at the Michigan Daily. You guys should try it.

By the way, I made several other points in my piece about important elements of the Trinity River story that your paper has never touched -- the fact that the existing freeway bridges were not, as claimed, slated for replacement, for example. And, of course, I mentioned again your suppressing of the Michael Lindenberger story about NTTA financing problems for the toll road until the day after the toll road election. I notice you wrote around those.

Want to settle this once and for all? Stop writing about me. Call the experts. Get them to look at the data. Show them the plan for the Trinity River Project. Write it up. And, George? No experts named Professor Reorge Godrigue, O.K? Sherlock Holmes will be watching.

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